Friday, August 31, 2007

Preseason Impressions: Steelers @ Carolina

Was there ever a professional sporting event in which both teams were more inclined to forfeit to avoid playing at all? Jake Delhomme, perfectly well (physically), didn't play. Willy Parker, perfectly well (physically), stood behind Dan Kreider for a single play, watched Mr. Kreider take the handoff, and stood on the sideline for the rest of the evening.

The question then is, how to evaluate such a contest? With the deadline for roster cuts just hours away here's one take on who distinguished themselves and who did not.

Winners
1. Tyrone Carter: His spot on the roster was already solidified, but last night's performance only enhanced and solidified his position on the depth chart. Mr. Carter led the team in tackles, recovered a fumble (though as you will see shortly, not everyone sees that as a matter of skill) and was the only Steelers player to make it into the end zone.

2. William Gay: Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. The good folks at Football Outsiders believe that "[s]tripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill." However true that is, when a player is fighting for his spot on the roster of 53 coming up with a turnover in the final preseason game is an extraordinarily good thing.

3. Mike Lorello: Whether or not he played well enough to stick, or even warrant a spot on the practice squad remains to be seen, but if he doesn't it won't be because of his performance Thursday evening. He was the defender on two passes (one complete, one incomplete), had two tackles, one assist, and two special teams tackles.

4. Gary Russell: It's tough to choose a standout offensive player after an evening when the offense mustered four field goals (unless of course the field goal kicker was the player be applauded), but following a lackluster first half (4 carries, 1 yard) Mr. Russell bounced back in the second half (albeit against defenders who were third or fourth on the Carolina depth chart) for 61 yards on 17 carries.

5. Willie Reid: After being called out by Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic and his head coach for doing a poor job on punt returns during the preseason, Mr. Reid had a 30-yard return, and averaged 9.8 yards on four returns.

Losers
1. Chukky Okobi: He played for a great deal of the game, and didn't perform especially well. This was an opportunity to back up his stated belief that he is one of the 53 best players on the Pittsburgh roster -- we are not convinced.

2. Brian St. Pierre: Came out of the game with an injured toe. An injured toe. Really. Fighting for spot on the roster and he couldn't tough it out? Of course his 3-for-10 passing performance didn't exactly leave anyone wanting more.

3,4, & 5. Matt Spaeth, Jonathan Dekker, Cody Boyd: The top two tight ends on the depth chart sat out the game, and none of the backups caught a ball. Or blocked especially well. Playbooks please!

Epilogue
The Steelers finished the preseason with a 4-1 record. The last time they played five preseason games (1997) they were 5-0, and finished the regular season with an 11-5 record. That season they went on to the AFC Championship game, losing to Denver 24-21.

This preseason's record is the best the Steelers have had since 2001, when the team was 3-1. That squad went 13-3 in the regular season, and lost in the AFC Championship game to New England, 24-17.

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